This past weekend I was doing some yardwork in our backyard. We have a willow tree, and every year we need to trim off the dead branches to that the new ones will flower and grow. As I was hacking away at it this year, the story Jesus told His disciples of the vine and the branches took on new life for me.
In this story Jesus chastizes His team to remain in Him so that He might remain in them. Jesus is essentially saying, don't forget about me and don't try to do life on your own, live it by following my example, the one that I laid out for you. Branches that bear fruit are people who have remain committed in their relationship with Christ and have chosen to live their lives for Him and not for themselves. Branches that do not bear fruit are people who have chosen to live life selfishly, not concerning themselves with God's intentions or desires for our world. Jesus says that theses branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire.
I'm not getting all doom and gloom here, don't worry. What struck me about this story is the idea of pruning. Pruning is a necessary phase of growth for plant life. Without pruning, our willow will not grow. There are seasons of pruning and seasons of growth in the life of our tree, but also in the life of a follower of Jesus. Pruning may represent getting rid of bad habits, refining our value system and shifting our priorities. Growth might represent being granted the ability to view life in a Christ-like perspective, being love in action to others and seeing the lives of people we care about and change through an experience in the richness of Jesus' love. I couldn't help but think that pruning is also a necessary part of ministry life. We can hold onto our traditions and rules so tightly that we forget to follow Christ's lead in obedience. We can begin to think our program can save us, or that our program represents growth. But this isn't the case at all. In fact, program only points to one thing...a schedule. Schedules are not a bad thing, but schedules can be a god or an idol in our lives. We can live to fill our schedule with stuff. We can begin to find value in being busy. We come to see that importance is based on whether or not we have more things to do than time in the day.
Pruning sees something different. Pruning holds onto schedule very lightly. Pruning is willing to more and to submit itself to the will of God and not the will of man. Pruning is a necessary part of learning to grow deep in Christ.
What sort of season do you find yourself in? My encouragement to you and to myself is not to fear the shear, but to embrace God's winnowing of your heart and learn to grow through each phase of your life as result.